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Executive Presence – Leadership Trait #4
By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL
you were made a leader, you weren’t given a crown, you were given the
responsibility to bring out the best in others.” – Jack Welch
What is Executive Presence? This question
seems to baffle definition. Apparently, it’s a matter of “you know it when you
see it”. One definition I came across begins with the assertion that leaders
have “voluntary followers, a charismatic, transformational style, people focus,
and positively seek risk”.
Recently, I was entering a hotel elevator
during a conference. As I walked toward the opening doors, two people came
bounding out. First, a pretty, poised, flight attendant all in white,
immediately followed by a tall man, who carried himself with perfect posture
(despite toting along a few bags), and a pleasant look, but not smiling. He
seemed to have an aura, or special bearing about him. They both held themselves
with impressive dignity, and I could tell the man was the captain of a large
flight crew, probably for a major airline, preparing for a long overseas
flight. I sensed this before I noticed his multiple uniform ribbons, medals and
stripes. He prevailed over his jovial flight crew, who immediately acknowledged
his presence and authority with full attention. As I observed his comportment,
it reminded me of the quandary many leadership theorists find themselves in
regarding executive presence. There was no doubt in my mind this man was the
leader. He held himself, he used his facial expressions specifically, he
commanded attention quickly. This man embodied executive presence, without
speaking a word.
Another example of executive presence, a
former company executive also possesses all of these attributes:
This leader came to his prestigious position
on a circuitous path. In the Navy, he achieved the rank of Lt Commander,
however, he achieved that rank by advancing through the enlisted ranks. The
Navy has a name for these people – “Mustangs”, a name well suited for him.
After many years of work in a competing company, he left for greener pastures.
This route to power supports the theory
“Leaders tend to feel separate from their environment. They may work in
organizations, but they never belong to them.”
He was a leader that made people not only
feel good about themselves but better than they were before. He had a can-do,
aggressive personality, but never forgot his past and those that helped him
along the way. He set a vision of continuous improvement achieved by means of
establishing his organization as a “Learning Organization”, and through his
insistence on personal involvement, portrays that vision effectively.
This charismatic leader personally reached
into the organization and gave his advice and counsel when asked. I engaged him
when I faced a professional and personal crisis. In less than 15 minutes, he
offered me a solution to the issue.
There are multiple examples of this leader
solving people’s problems in order to right a wrong and instill his vision to
his leadership team.
His charismatic, transformational leadership
style is the principal reason he had many followers. He established loyalty
throughout the organization and on every level. When he visited a site, he made
the rounds to the dining center, the factory floor, the cubicle farms, the
conference rooms. He kissed all the women and shook the hands of every man. He
warmly hugs everyone he knows well. He calls out people by name. He comments on
the beautiful views. His people focus is undeniable.
He sought risks in many ways as well. In his
business dealings, he was constantly encouraging our customers to see new ways
of doing business by his own direct engagement. He promoted out of the box
thinking for his teams, setting goals that would seem almost unrealistic. I
have seen many smart people struggle to understand what exactly he wanted, not
because he wasn’t clear, but because (as in the old Apple Macintosh commercial)
they failed to think different(ly).
He is one of those special leaders that is
irreplaceable. In fact, his only major flaw is the inexplicable inability for
anyone else in the organization to fill his shoes. Several years ago, he was
the VP and General Manager of the local corporate location. Once he left, it
seemed as if a great black hole formed, and five years later, that leadership
void has never really been filled. Many employees think this is the leader’s way
of ensuring the love and affection we have for him doesn’t go away. One time I
saw him at a social event. I said, “We really miss you”. To which he replied,
“I really miss me, too”.
Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL, PCC, SHRM-SCP
T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science Organizational
Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach
(ICF-PCC), Society of Human Resource Management Senior Certified Professional
(SHRM-SCP). Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Coaching,
University of Texas at Dallas. Member Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor
Society. Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego
and Syracuse University. Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist,
Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human
Resource Management from SHRM. Mary is also an ICF certified Appreciative
Inquiry Practitioner, and a Certified EQi-2.0 and EQ360 Practitioner.
Mary O’Sullivan has over 30
years’ experience in the aerospace and defense industry. In each of her roles,
she acted as a change agent, moving teams and individuals from status quo to
new ways of thinking, through offering solutions focused on changing behaviors
and fostering growth. In addition, Mary holds a permanent teaching certificate
in the State of New York for secondary education and taught high school English
for 10 years in the Syracuse, NY area. Today, Mary dedicates herself to helping
good leaders get even better through positive behavior change.